Sunday, April 25, 2010

Students learning with laptops

Five years ago our School District embarked on a project to provide a class set of laptops to a students in each of four K-5 (elementary) schools and the year after expanded to include five 6-8 (middle) schools.  Our focus was on improving the writing process.

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I know, this is nothing new now as many schools around the world have run similar initiatives.  But we wanted to learn for ourselves how providing this technology in a one 2 one format to students could impact their learning, specifically writing.  We did not undertake a formal research project but rather through anecdotal feedback from teachers, parents, and students we now believe that all students can benefit from this type of access.

At the beginning of each school year we require parents and their students who are in a one2one classroom to come to a one hour evening meeting to learn about this program. 
A key message in this presentation is to talk about what’s changed in our world.  What is compelling us and families to provide laptops and other digital devices to support learning?  We discuss the fact that the District and Schools will never be able to afford to provide laptops to all students but rather, they will likely become school supplies as the cost approaches “zero”.  We talk about the value these tools bring to learning embedded in classrooms contrasted with the “field trip” to the computer lab.

We have great debates at times with parents that believe technology has dumbed-down children.  Comments such as “they can’t seem to spell very well”, “they don’t like to read as much”, and “they don’t think critically about what they find online”.  This really feeds nicely into the argument that schools have a tremendous role and morale responsibility to help kids use technology in effective ways to support their learning.  It’s not necessarily the fault of technology but perhaps the adults in kids lives are not guiding them effectively in their use of technology.  Digital natives don’t intuitively get how to use technology to support their educational experience – they need to be taught and supported.

The following two videos include teachers and students from two of our K-5 schools sharing their experiences in the program.  They talk about how it helps them write better, edit more, and how kids teach their teachers.

Alderson Elementary One2One

Central Elementary One2One

This story from one of middle schools shares shares how students, especially boys, write significantly more with laptops than without. 

Maple Creek Middle One2One

The teacher in the video shared with me how he has all of his   students write “works in progress” during the year.  He then uploads their short stories to a print on demand website and produces short runs of the “works in progress” book (over 250,000 words) – kids love being published.  He used to do this without laptops and has found kids writing 4-8 times more with laptops.  It’s just easier for kids to write, edit, and refine electronically than it is on paper.  He also shares how technology can connect his students to the world outside his classroom.

I like Dave Truss’ presentation “The POD’s are Coming” where he talks about the need for educators to get ready for this reality as personally owned devices (PODs) are coming to our schools.  He shares stories of how educators are allowing POD’s into their classrooms and how kids benefit.  I believe this is a huge wave that is coming faster than we are likely to get properly prepared for.

In our District we have over 1000 students bringing some form of POD to school – we have a policy that allows this to occur.  It is causing us some challenges as I outline in “Digital Natives Need Infrastructure”.  We really need to manage the use so that the majority is for good educational purposes.  But, it is the right thing to open up to – kids bringing their own digital learning device is the only affordable way.  Remember when schools wondered how to provide class sets of calculators?  Kids bring their own now.  PODs are the new pencil and notebook.  Devices like the iPad may replace textbooks and novels.  I talk about device choices in “Device Wars” but just read a post by Will RichardsonThe End of Books (For Me at Least?)” that is pretty convincing that paper-based books may be on their way out sooner than later.

So, where will this all end up?  I think that the next five years will be challenging for schools, educators, and Districts to grapple with the pace at which PODs will enter their schools.  But, the PODs are coming so… We need to be sure that parents understand the value of PODs for their children’s learning and how to monitor and support their use of PODs at home, our teachers are prepared to leverage PODs for their student’s learning, and our principals and District leaders are prepared with the tools and policies to address socially irresponsible online behaviour.

What advice do you have for parents…  for teachers…  for principals…  for District leaders…  in preparing for and embracing this reality?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Device Wars

The iPad has sure taken money from peoples pockets in a hurry.  I don’t know about you but I’m starting to find it difficult at times to make sense of all the choices.  School Principals and Teachers often seek my advice on what to buy for students or what to recommend to parents to buy for their kids.  I have to step out of my adult self to try to see device choices through the eyes of a young person.  We adults are biased in our choices to what we know and prefer.  Kids are often more willing to use / try new devices and make them work for their needs.  We need to be sure to acknowledge that they will see things differently then we adults do.

I wrote a post about using iPod Touch devices in classrooms – we have some schools considering class-sets of these to support learning.  Many schools are considering netbooks as the next big thing for students. Their size and price are attractive for sure.  But aren’t they simply a smaller cheaper laptop?  Is this the right device? 

Wired Magazine’s April 2010 edition has an article “Why the new generation of tablet computers changes everything”.  In this article the iPad is described as a post-PC era device where we flick, roll, tap, stretch content on our tablets – no need for a real keyboard.  The iTunes AppStore provides a trusted means to get inexpensive apps for the iPad.  Apple enforces design standards so the iPad’s apps will provide a proven acceptable experience for users.  I agree with the author though that to do real work on a computer, the keyboard is still king – students still need to write and create – these are higher order processes.  I’m not so sure the iPad is a post-PC device, rather I suggest it could fill the gap between a small screen (cellphone, iPod) and a laptop.  It is in addition to, not instead of.  I think it is really a question of “how mobile”.  Small, light, instant on devices are great for consuming content when on the move.  But when you need to do “real” work, a real keyboard is still most effective.

The author continues on and talks about Google’s upcoming Chrome OS and the “wave of Chrome-powered netbooks set for release this fall”.  Cloud computing would seem to be Google’s vision of the future – use their OS on a netbook and store all of your content in the cloud (preferably theirs they would say) and trust us...  I worry about how people, many educators, many IT folks, are so willing to embrace the cloud.  Giving away control of our content, our identity information, and trusting face-less corporations seems a bit irresponsible doesn’t it?  I think we need to slow things down a bit here. We are too trusting, too quick to give up privacy to gain “free” access to tools.  We need to address the ownership, control, privacy, and related security questions.  The cloud “device” needs more thought…

Will Richardson shares a post and video he created of his friend, an educator and NY Times blog author, Warren Buckleitner talking about the value of the iPad for younger children. 


Sure it’s a cool, interesting tool that young children can use and learn with – if I had young children, I’d probably want one for them to use, but is it worth the cost?  What is about tools like this that make us think young kids will need it?  How does it improve their life chances over other forms of play and learning?

In my School District I advocate for families providing personally owned devices (PODs) for their children to bring to school – part of the school supply list.  As the price approaches zero for a POD, this makes good sense.  Every student really needs their own “digital pencil”.  But, what device should kids buy to support their learning?  A laptop, netbook, iPod, iPod Touch, cellphone, iPad?  They can’t afford them all.  Should they have more than one type? The other challenge is the built-in obsolescence driven by the creators of these devices.  What is cool and amazing today, will be seemingly out of date by Christmas and they’ll/we’ll want the new one!  New becomes old so much more quickly these days…

I think school systems and educators need to be more critical about devices.  We should have clear ideas about how devices help students learn or help teachers teach, in ways not possible without the devices, and in ways that really improve learning and teaching, in measureable ways.  Devices should be transformative shouldn’t they?  Increased engagement is certainly a positive factor for kids with devices, but doesn’t the shine wear off quickly? 

What do you think about the new devices?  Which do you recommend for students to use?  For teachers to use?  Peering 5-10 years out, what do you think the next big thing in devices might be, should be?  Do you also worry about cloud computing and the implications of losing control, privacy, etc.?

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Teachers teaching with SMART Boards

In my last post I talked about a learning team I facilitated for school principals.  Well, I also facilitated a team of K-5 teachers last year in their journey to figure out how to use SMART boards.  This was a great experience for me to have with classroom teachers learning a new and powerful technology.

SMART boards are interactive white boards (IWB) or devices that allow the user to touch the white board and manipulate objects, text, and various software tools.  It is best to mount the IWB on the wall with an LCD projector arm built in.  This way it is always available and properly aligned and calibrated – which reduces setup time and frustration for the teacher.  Then use a laptop (or desktop) on a cart to connect to the IWB.  Software on the laptop controls the IWB’s functions.

Schools have embraced IWB’s all around the world.  I believe Alberta, CA has a goal to put an IWB in every classroom in every school and is well on its way to achieving this.

imageMy team’s research goal was
“We would like to use SmartBoards as a tool to enhance teaching and student learning”
They have four questions they sought to answer
1. How do we operate the SmartBoard program? (all the functions)
2. What on-line resources are available and how do we access and use them?
3. How do we create our own lessons?
4. Do SmartBoards improve teaching and student learning?
I presented their story at CUEBC’s October 2009 conference, you can view the full presentation here if you like.  Meet the teachers in this story…

Learning Team Introductions

My initial thoughts about SMART boards were that they weren’t necessarily the best use of scarce funding in schools.  But as I worked through the year with this group and then subsequently visited classrooms this year in other schools, I’m convinced otherwise.

Students checking themselves in to class

One of the things that impressed me about this group of teachers was their dedication and willingness to try new things.  They invested a tremendous amount of personal time and went through a lot of frustration trying to learn the technology.  Their aim of course was to learn how to apply it to their teaching and to support their student’s learning.

Dave Sands, the principal, talks about his teachers and their learning

At each learning team meeting we carved out 5-minutes for each person to write what they’re worried about, wondering about, etc.  Check out this wordle of their five minute writes. 
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Isn’t it interesting how “time” jumps out.  They worried about how much time it was taking to learn this and wondered if they’d have enough time to apply its use in their classrooms with kids.  I remember one teacher sharing how she went home, did the family stuff with dinner, playing with kids, etc.  Then after the kids went to bed she would hit the couch with her laptop and start researching SMART board lessons, trying them out, see which ones might be good starting points for her to use.  Often this would take her past midnight.

Teachers share the learning journey they went on

They accomplished a variety of things towards meeting their goals.  Initially they had to get over the hurdle of the technology itself.  Dealing with setup, things going wrong, what the possibilities are, etc.  Then they moved onto specific application to their classrooms, their students, and their chosen subject / activities.

Teachers share the results of their research

One of their key goals was to improve student learning.  After one year, most did not think they had realized this goal.  But, they were all looking forward to pushing on towards this ultimate aim.  They felt they had just got started and needed to build on what they had learned.  During the year many went through what I like to call “the pit of despair” but all came through the other side willing and excited to keep on going.

Teachers share advice for others interested in SMART Boards
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This slide summarizes what I learned from this experience.  I admire these teachers for their dedication to learn.  Not all teachers in my experience like to invest the time to learn, rather there are those that are content with teaching the same lessons and content the same way year after year.  My observation is that the time and energy invested in learning and adapting was well worth it for these teachers!

I was told once by a person who works for SMART that 50% of IWB’s sold in the world are used as glorified white boards.  I would suggest that the reason is some schools install these tools and don’t invest in staff learning.  The stages of adoption for a SMART Board are (1) expensive display device, (2) an enhancement for the teacher / more engaging for students, and (3) a learning tool for students.  Teachers that involve students in using the IWB to participate in learning, share their learning, and perhaps help teach, will have reached the stage that a SMART Board should take them to.

What do you think?  Are these tools worth the expense?  Do they really improve student learning?  How so?  Are your schools implementing IWB’s?  Feel free to share your experiences and ideas here.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Administrator 2.0 Leading Technology in Schools

Last year I had the privilege of facilitating a learning team consisting of a small group of school principals.  Learning teams in our District are learning structures designed to support action research.  These principals had recently purchased tablet PCs and had the following question:
“In what ways will my leadership skills be improved by my learning the various tools of my tablet?”
image  They are leaders of elementary (K-5) and middle (6-8) schools.

Learning teams are a very important method for our teachers and principals to experience embedded action research of their own design.  I presented their story at CUEBC in October 2009.  We have over 1/3 of our educators who’ve chosen to be on a learning team and around 41% of all learning teams have a learning with technology focus.  I talked about technology leadership in a previous post and I think this group of Principals exemplify learning and leadership.
Role of Principal and Technology
They see their role with respect to technology to show their staff some possibilities, to make the experience a good one, and to use technology as an communications tool and organizer for themselves and their school.  Something I advocate strongly is that school leaders need to be technology leaders.  I don’t think a school will be progressive in using technology to support learning, teaching, or administration unless the Principal makes it a leadership priority.  In this next clip, Principals talk about how they can be the technology leader in their school without necessarily being the expert.
School Leader = Technology Leader
Our learning team met six times.  Each person had to develop their own research question or learning goal and work towards it.  Some were personal goals while others related more to changes they wanted to make in their schools with staff.  These individuals are very busy people with their work and their personal lives and it was amazing how they found time to try new tools, learn new practices, and make progress.  Time, or lack of, is a major challenge to learning…

They share some advice for principals next.
Advice for Principals
It is really important to know what is possible, what questions to ask, and then pursue answers.  Schools have to embrace current tools.  It is important to understand kids and where they’re at with technology.  Schools have to find ways to provide the technology for teachers to use – teachers have to have access.  Principals should find a supportive group of people to learn with, like this group did through their learning team.  There are many other examples of Principals in our District who have stepped out to support and embrace technology in very effective ways in their schools.  Perhaps I’ll tell some of their stories in future posts…

I’m interested in what other Principals do to learn and lead with technology and what other Districts do to support them.  What advice do you have for your colleagues who might be struggling with how and where to start?  Also, what stories might you share about why (or why not) Principals need to be the technology leader in their schools.  What advice might you have for me, a District technology leader, in supporting Principals?